Over time, faces wrinkle, sag, and show signs of aging. There are many creams, procedures, and recommendations on how to prevent or repair signs of aging. Despite all of these interventions, however, nothing currently exists that can significantly reverse aging of the skin. Recently, research has suggested that stem cells may be able to change that.
What causes aging?
One of the single most significant causes of skin aging is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. This causes damage to collagen and elastin, the tissue that makes our skin youthful and gives it the ability to “snap back” into place instead of sagging. The sun also causes damage to the color of skin, causing hyperpigmentation – dark spots – in certain areas. Over time, all of this damage depletes our skin’s ability to regenerate. Beyond sunscreen and avoiding the sun, there is no true way to avoid this outcome. There is currently no known way to reverse it.
What is skin made out of?
There are two layers of skin: the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is on top and is the protective layer. The dermis is underneath and contains the fat, connective tissue, hair follicles, sweat glands, and blood vessels. Normally, skin is constantly being replaced. The top layer sloughs off and new cells replace it. The bottom layer in the skin has stem cells. These stem cells divide and turn into the new skin cells.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are a special type of cell in the body that can become many different types of tissues. They can become brain cells, skin cells, muscle, or bone cells. They can be found in many different parts of the body. Stem cells are so interesting to researchers and doctors because they have so much potential. There is hope that they can replace diseased cells, or damaged cells. One type of damaged cell they can help replace is skin cells damaged during aging.
How do we get stem cells?
New research has shown that harvesting stem cells from different parts of a patient’s own body and then growing those cells out in the lab is safe and effective. In one previous study, stem cells were harvested from bone marrow. They were then grown in a lab with a special type of medium, like fertilizer in a garden. They were then injected back into the patient. Another way of harvesting stem cells is through umbilical cord tissue. Similar to bone marrow harvesting, the cells are harvested from the cord, grown and cultured, and then injected into the patient.
How do stem cells correlate with aging?
A new research study released in April of this year found that stem cells play a part in aging. This research was conducted in mice, but researchers believe it may apply to humans as well. This study, by Emi Nishimura in Japan, showed that UV radiation and aging depletes stem cells in the skin of a collagen protein. As mentioned above, collagen is the protein responsible for making skin appear youthful. Without this protein, the stem cells divide abnormally. They are forced to divide into adult skin cells. This process keeps repeating until ultimately there are not enough healthy stem cells to replace the damaged ones.
The study aims to examine why stem cells are ultimately depleted. The researchers concluded that the stem cells become damaged by the UV light. The weakened stem cells are then pushed, in a way, by the healthier stem cells. The weakened stem cell is pushed upward, away from where it is supposed to reside. At first, this is good – the body is getting rid of damaged cells. However, once too many cells get damaged, there are no healthy ones left. This study shows that stem cells are a key part of aging. If we can control stem cells, we may be able to reverse some parts of skin aging.
Have stem cells been used for anti-aging before?
There are currently a number of research studies that are examining the role of stem cells in anti-aging therapies. One study in particular is examining adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). There have been multiple studies that these different types of stem cells can adjust the body’s immune response, provide signals for different reactions within cells, and to balance homeostasis. Overall, doctors believe that, based on these properties, ADSCs can rejuvenate skin and improve wound healing.
In the past, dermatologists thought that “lipo fillers” were helpful because of the structure of fat tissue. Essentially, injecting fat tissue into certain areas caused a fuller, more health appearance of the skin in that area. However, they are now theorizing that the stem cells found in fat may signal to other cells. It may be the signaling in the stem cells in the adipose tissue that signals the stem cells in the face to help with anti-aging.
Overall, the mainstay of anti-aging treatment is prevention: Sunscreen. However, there is currently no widely used way to reverse aging. Based on the research in Japan in mice and the studies on the cell lines themselves, scientists believe that stem cells play a larger role in aging. They believe that if we target stem cells, we may be able to trigger the anti-aging and reparative mechanisms the skin already has. More research is needed before definite conclusions are drawn, but the primary research is promising.
What can you do now?
Stem cell use for anti-aging is an emerging field. At the Anti Aging and Wellness Clinic we believe in providing safe and scientifically-directed care. If you are interested in learning more about how you can use this technology for your own anti-aging goals, please contact our clinic today.